Dragons Reach, Part 2

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The fourth episode in this season of the living world, Dragon's Reach, Part 2 is very much a return to form after a couple of fairly average set-up releases. We lead a summit of Tyria's leaders in an attempt to determine a plan of action, aiming to take the fight to the elder dragon Mordremoth. This, of course, does not go unnoticed, and we end up defending a weakened Pale Tree against a Shadow of Mordremoth, and finally, receive a crystal-laden vision of what is to come.

There is some excellent dialogue in this episode, with the exchanges between Countess Anise and Canach particularly worthy of recognition. I'm intrigued to see where the story takes these two characters, but they've been very much thrust into the foreground now and will be the subject of intense speculation and conspiracy theories between now and episode five. For my part, I definitely get the impression that Anise is the real power in Divinity's Reach, but am no closer to determining her end-game, and whether or not it's going to be for good or ill. In this release, Anise is clearly manipulating Kasmeer with promises of redemption, and admits to Canach that she is grooming him as her personal agent, which only goes to reinforce the idea that there is an awful lot more to her than meets the eye, and even more that she's not telling us.

I'm glad to be back in personal story instances for this release, and find it to be a much better fit for this style of story-telling, compared to the open world events that we saw in the Iron Marches for Dragon's Reach, Part 1. By encapsulating the story progression in my own private little bubble, I can choose how to take it all in. I can take my time and listen to every snippet of dialogue, which is particularly important given that we know that everything can have significance and point towards future events. I can take friends in with me, if I want, but can choose not to if I'd rather experience events with my character as the sole protagonist. If the new enemies that I'm facing have interesting mechanics that make the fight more difficult, I can spend time working those out instead of being forced to get as many hits in as possible during a mass zerg and then being left wondering quite what happened. I have no doubt that we'll continue to see a mix of open world and instanced content as part of the living world, and this is definitely the correct approach given the fact that we all want to see the world of Tyria evolve around us, but ArenaNet need to make sure that they're making the right judgement when they determine which tool they're going to use to deliver us an engaging and challenging story.

The Phoenix Wright influence in the first story instance, Party Politics (aka Turnabout Divinity's Reach), was really fun and very well executed. The necessity to repeat the instance four times in total to get all of the achievements. however, started to wear a little thin towards the end. There is a suspicion that this is actually a bug and that it should be possible to do 'Sneaky Sleuth' and 'Super Sleuth' at the same time. As mentioned up top, Canach has some excellent lines, explaining how he's plotting how to kill all of the preening human nobles. That Sylvari is my kind of dude.

Update: The musically gifted Leif Chappelle is responsible for the Ace Attourney schtick… good job!

Taimi was getting a really hard time from Councillor Phlunt, a member of the Asuran Arcane Council, and I greatly enjoyed her back-chat and eventual escape with her waypoint reconfigurator. He's gone firmly to the top of everyone's 'this guy is a douchebag' list and is another character whose motives are decidedly supect. I don't trust for one second that he's a suitable guardian for Taimi's creations and wouldn't be at all surprised if it turns out that he betrays us in favour of the Inquest, whose own motivations have not been made particularly clear so far in this season of the living story, despite significant involvement. It was good to see that the damage to Scruffy was only temporary, but I'm eagerly awaiting the day that Taimi rides into battle on Braham's shoulder, guns blazing and cackling manically (not unlike a scene in a certain recent movie release). ArenaNet: get to work!

The main event of this episode is an impressive procession in the Grove, where we see the recently recruited leaders of Tyria assemble for a summit chaired by the Pale Tree herself. This, for me, is where the dialogue fell down slightly; each leader rehashing why they were reluctant to take the threat of Mordremoth seriously. Things picked up, however, when the party was crashed by Mordrem, including a massive shadow dragon champion. Everyone escapes, we have a kick-ass solo boss battle, and then tend to a weakened Pale Tree. She'll live, it seems, and bestows upon us a vision which hints at where the story will head next. I've got my suspicions about what it all means and eagerly await the inevitable speculation videos from the likes of WoodenPotatoes. Afterwards, Anise sends Canach off to Fort Trinity with Trahearne, who suggests that there had to be someone on the inside that brought Mordremoth's minions to the Grove. At this point we really don't know anything, but I can't wait to see what comes next.

We've had Dry Top for six weeks now and I have to say that it's still a lot of fun; I've barely been anywhere else. The rewards are only so-so, but I find it an enjoyable place to run around doing my dailies. My luck in opening buried chests during the hourly sandstorm has been absolutely terrible: I haven't had a single fossil yet, but that actually doesn't worry me too much. I've not yet seen a T5/T6 instance, but have had a couple of fun organised attempts with my guild that have come close. Pretty much the only criticism that I'd level at the moment would be to say that Sand Giant, while looking totally badass, probably needs to either be nerfed slightly or have the rewards for taking him down improved. It just takes too long, and I've not seen a single kill since the day of the patch that unlocked that part of Dry Top.

The last thing that I wanted to mention is the new grow-your-own backpiece that was started in episode three and continued with this release. I haven't started it yet, largely due to the fact that I lack the required crafting skills, but think that the approach ArenaNet is taking with it is very clever indeed. You receive the starting items as rewards for completing the story instances, which encourages people to keep up with the living world, and in this case has allowed them to spread a single reward out over multiple releases. Working out what to do with these items is, at least for the first couple of hours, a game of discovery, and even when every step is documented by you know who it still results in a wide-ranging scavenger hunt which takes players to corners of the world that they wouldn't normally go to. I can see this approach being used extensively for powerful or important rewards in the future and like it very much as an alternative to RNG or the gem store.